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Series Preview: Mariners (8-12) at Tigers (10-8)

The Mariners make their first trip to the Midwest this week.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins

At a Glance:

Mariners Tigers
Mariners Tigers
Game 1 Tuesday, April 25 | 4:10 pm
RHP Felix Hernandez RHP Jordan Zimmermann
53% 47%
Game 2 Wednesday, April 26 | 4:10 pm
LHP James Paxton LHP Daniel Norris
54% 46%
Game 3 Thursday, April 27 | 10:10 am
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma RHP Justin Verlander
44% 56%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners (2016) Tigers (2016) Edge
Overview Mariners (2016) Tigers (2016) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 107 (2nd in AL) 106 (3rd in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -24.9 (13th) -20.8 (12th) Tigers
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 107 (10th) 100 (7th) Tigers
Bullpen (FIP-) 95 (11th) 91 (8th) Tigers

Despite winning just two games on the road so far, the Mariners run differential away from home is just -6. A 10-run victory on Sunday afternoon certainly helps buoy that number but the Mariners largest margin of defeat on the road has been just four runs with a bunch of one- and two-run losses. The road wins will come, and hopefully getting away from the AL West for a brief Midwest pit stop will help.

The Tigers are tied with the Indians for the AL Central division lead but they’re in a much worse position. J.D. Martinez has yet to play this season after spraining his foot during spring training, Miguel Cabrera was just placed on the disabled list with a groin injury, and their starting shortstop Jose Iglesias is in the midst of the concussion protocol. They’re finally returning home after a long road trip where they went 4-5 and were swept by the Rays.

The Tigers:

The late owner of the Tigers, Mike Ilitch, did all he could to build a competitive team that could win a World Series. From 2011–2014, the Tigers won the AL Central each year and appeared in one World Series, losing to the Giants. But an aging veteran core has stumbled and they’ve missed out on the playoffs the last two years. There are reinforcements in the minors, but they’re a little too far away to make an impact this season. That puts the organization in an awkward position where they’re relying on stopgap options at multiple positions, particularly in the outfield.

Key Players

DH Victor MartinezVictor Martinez’ slow start to the season can largely be attributed to his increased strikeout rate, which currently stands at 17.1%. While that’s well below league average, it would stand as the highest of his career if it held throughout the season. What’s interesting is his plate discipline doesn’t appear to have declined; his O-Swing% (which measures what percentage of pitches out of the zone he swings at) is 24.2% for 2017, his lowest mark since 2009. His contact rate is down 7.5% off his career mark, which could explain his increased strikeout numbers. When he is making contact, he’s still hitting the ball hard (42.3% hard hit rate), but more of that contact is coming on the ground rather than in the air. Martinez has proven himself to be a reliable hitter over the course of his 15-year career and will see more success as the season progresses, especially if he continues to hit the ball hard. It will be interesting to see if his decreasing contact rate is anomalous or a sign of age finally catching up to the 38-year-old slugger.

2B Ian Kinsler After hitting 28 homers in 2016, Ian Kinsler looks to be continuing his power surge into this season. Through 75 plate appearances, the 34-year-old second baseman boasts a 50% fly ball rate and a 37% hard contact rate. Intuitively, a lot of hard hit fly balls typically lead to a lot of dingers. That said, Kinsler is batting just .217 to start the season. Similar to Victor Martinez, he’s striking out at a higher clip than ever before, which reflects a drop in contact rate more than his discipline. He’s been able to make up for his difficulty hitting for contact with an impressive 18.7% walk rate.

LF Justin UptonJustin Upton has always been a slugger, but his .255 ISO to start the season is higher than any other mark in his career. Point to his 42.4% hard contact rate as the driver of this hot start. One thing that’s interesting, however, is Upton’s fly ball rate is the lowest it’s been since 2012, and he’s hitting grounders at the highest clip of his career. His HR/FB rate of 25% indicates that he could see his ISO decline as the season matures unless he starts getting the ball in the air more.

Probable Pitchers

Boston Red Sox v Detroit Tigers

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (2016)

105 1/3 14.7% 5.8% 10.3% 43.1% 4.87 4.42

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.6 52.5% 50 108 69
Slider 87.7 30.9% 47 129 74
Curveball 80.7 13.3% 36 114 62

Last season, Jordan Zimmermann suffered through multiple injuries, causing him to lose a couple of ticks off his fastball velocity. We’re three starts into this season and he still hasn’t recovered that velocity. His strikeout rate has cratered and his walk rate has more than doubled since his last season with the Nationals in 2015. It’s possible all these injuries sapped him of all his effectiveness but his strikeout-to-walk ratio wasn’t exactly great when he was healthy last season. The one thing he has done well throughout his career is generate weak contact—and that skill hasn’t disappeared yet. His hard hit rate was among the best in the majors and he’s generating a lot more pop ups over the last three seasons. More than 20% of the fly balls hit off him this season have been pop ups and that’s a major reason why his home run rate has fallen to just 3.4%.

LHP Daniel Norris (2016)

69 1/3 23.5% 7.3% 12.3% 38.3% 3.38 3.93

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.9 54.3% 178 93 150
Sinker 93.1 7.6% -- -- --
Changeup 86.5 14.1% 110 122 114
Slider 88.1 15.8% 96 120 104
Curveball 77.0 8.3% 67 42 59
*Norris’s sinker did not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Daniel Norris has always struggled to stay on the mound, with a litany of injuries—including thyroid cancer—keeping him from turning in a full season of work since breaking into the majors in 2014. Last year was his most successful season yet, despite two trips to the disabled list. He’s always been able to post excellent strikeout rates in the minors and that skill finally transferred to the majors. But even more encouraging was his walk rate, which he managed to keep around league average. His fastball velocity was the highest it’s been in the majors, increasing that pitch’s whiff rate to well above average. He had a really strong finish to last season and the Tigers are hoping he can build on that mini-breakout this year.

RHP Justin Verlander (2016)

227 2/3 28.1% 6.3% 10.9% 33.7% 3.04 3.48

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.3 57.3% 216 90 174
Changeup 86.1 8.5% 104 75 94
Slider 88.6 17.1% 66 116 83
Curveball 79.5 15.9% 48 91 62

Justin Verlander could have won the Cy Young award last year and no one would have blinked twice. After an injury-shortened season in 2015, he removed any lingering doubt about his health by pushing his fastball velocity back to his 95 mph norms. He also added a ton of velocity to his slider, though it didn’t translate into additional whiffs. Instead, like his curveball, it’s a pitch that induces weak contact. Opposing batters hit a combined .168 off his breaking balls with just 15 total extra-base hits. Combine that elite contact management with an outrageously good fastball and you’ve got the perfect formula for an ace’s repertoire.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 13-6 0.684 -- W-W-W-L-W
Athletics 10-9 0.526 3.0 W-W-W-W-L
Rangers 9-11 0.450 4.5 W-W-W-W-L
Angels 9-12 0.429 5.0 L-L-W-L-W
Mariners 8-12 0.400 5.5 W-L-L-L-W

The Rangers jumped up the standings after sweeping a four-game series against the Royals over the weekend, allowing just five runs in the entire series. Their short win streak was snapped last night after beginning a three-game series against the Twins with a loss. The Astros won their weekend series against the Rays and will travel to Cleveland to start this week. The Angels split a four-game series with the Blue Jays over the weekend and will host the upstart Athletics for three games.